It’s been more than two decades since Nike officially announced the launch of the Jordan Brand.
To this day, athletes are still handpicked by the man himself. Ask any of the athletes that are currently on the roster and you’ll typically hear how much of an honor it is to represent the brand. Dig deeper regarding their receiving some of the most coveted retro drops months before their release and it’s difficult for a smile not to creep across their face.
Harold Varner III is no exception.
While free Jordans excite him, he’s never been a material guy and instead cherishes the relationships he’s established with those within the brand more than any of the many boxes he’s shipped seasonally. He’s in elite compnay, too, as Varner is Jordan Brand’s second golf signing in the brand’s history following Keegan Bradley who was signed in 2014.
You would expect this to carry some added form of pressure as the brand has already established itself in basketball, baseball, football, and even boxing. However, speak with Varner about this and it’s easy to see why Jordan picked him as an ambassador. His only focus is on the next swing, continuing to improve and helping make the game more accessible to more youth.
Ahead of this week’s Players Championship where he finished tied for seventh place last year, Varner spoke with us on his familiarity with the course, signing with Jordan Brand, his relationship with the brand’s namesake and how he’s working to make the game of golf accessible to more youth.
Nice Kicks: It’s officially been a year now that you’ve been with Jordan Brand. How would you describe the relationship?
HVIII: It’s been unbelievable and it’s pretty cool. Obviously, the relationship is really good. I’ve met some awesome people, including MJ himself. I’ve been able to bounce things off of him. Overall, it has just been fantastic – I can’t say enough about it.
What was really cool is how I got set up with them. MJ is really close with the COO of the Hornets, Fred Whitfield, and he’s always been really good to me. I helped out with an event he had, came back and spoke to some of the kids. Fred pretty much set everything up and pitched the idea to MJ and when MJ wants something, he normally gets it done.
Nice Kicks: With golf still being somewhat new to the brand compared to the other categories, have they been receptive to any ideas you’ve had or has everything they’ve provided been pretty good?
HVIII: What they provide has been pretty good. I’ve needed some different colors because you know the classic Jordan colors are North Carolina blue and the Chicago Bulls red. My favorite color is purple because I went to East Carolina and they’ve been really good about that. The actual fit of the shirts are unbelievable. It’s been really cool and it’s nice to have options. If you don’t like something you just tell them how you feel.
For instance, I was wearing a shoe that I thought fit fine, but sometimes I would have a blister on my toe. When I went out to Portland, they were like, “Let’s get your foot sized.” I tried on different shoes, got my foot measured and it turns out I just needed a bigger shoe. Just things like that. I’m sure that every company can do that, but they rock when it comes to things like that.
Nice Kicks: Can you describe your reaction when you received that first Jordan shipment?
HVII: It was pretty cool. I’m not really into material things like that. I mean it’s cool to be a part of the brand, but the relationship matters way more to me and that’s unbelievable.
I’ve also been able to help a lot of people. At the end of the year, the shoes that I’ll have, I give them to my manager and he takes them to the high school we went to and we look out for the kids that have done really well.
It’s been weird, though, and it shows how different the world was when I was growing up. One of the kid’s mom thought he stole the shoes. If I would have come home with a new pair of shoes, my mom would have been like, “That’s awesome!” — especially if I explained to her how I got them. My goal is just to help kids who want to do well and be in sports.
Nice Kicks: You’ll be wearing the Concords for THE PLAYERS Championship, but I do know your favorite Air Jordan is the 3. What is it about that shoe that resonates for you the most out of all of them?
HVIII: The biggest thing for me is that it’s a shoe that I like and can wear on and off the course. Obviously, I’m the third and it was the first shoe I wore as a Jordan athlete. It’s still my favorite. The Concord is really good, but the actual shoe is kind of big. It makes my foot look really big and I’m already kind of short.
Nice Kicks: How has it been forming a relationship with Michael?
HVIII: He’s been awesome. He’s also helped me out whenever I’m going through something during play. I’ll just bounce it off of him.
For example, I was struggling last year and I asked him what he did when he was going through a slump. He just told me that I was putting too much pressure on myself. Relax and focus on your fundamentals. I thought that was pretty cool and he responded right back.
Nice Kicks: Has there been any trash talk from him yet?
HVIII: Not too much, but when we’ve played together he can get it going.
Nice Kicks: Golf is an expensive game and your HV3 foundation helps bring that access to kids who wouldn’t normally have it. In your opinion, what do you think can be done to make golf more accessible?
HVIII: When I first got on the PGA Tour, I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was like, “If the kids want to play, let them play.” That’s how it was for me growing up. If me and my dad wanted to play four or five holes, we would just go and play, or I can just chip around. I just had the access pretty much.
As I get older – it’s unfortunate that it’s like this – but people look at people like dollars. “Oh, this kid wants to play? We’re going to charge him this.” That’s unfortunate, but my job is to help make it accessible no matter what it takes and that’s what we’re trying to do with my HV3 foundation.
You just have to get them out there and that’s the hardest part. For instance, in Gastonia, the issue is just getting people to the course. In school, I used to just ride with a friend or since my mom worked so early that when she got off she could just take me to the course. If you’re not in that situation – which most kids from the inner city are not – it’s just really hard to get out there.
I think if you can just get out there, some are going to stick with it and some aren’t, but you’ll have a better chance at really enjoying it.
Nice Kicks: THE PLAYERS championship is right in your backyard in Jacksonville, FL. Do you still get any nerves leading up to play?
HVIII: I think I get real nervous when I feel unprepared because I don’t have an idea that I’m ready to go. I feel really good, though. I live down there and even though I have a place in Charlotte, I spend the winters in Jacksonville.
So, I’ve played there a hundred times and I’ve lived there for about three years, so I have a pretty good understanding of what you need to do and playing well last year is going to help out a lot as well.
Nice Kicks: You finished high on the leaderboard last year in this same tournament, so you obviously feel comfortable with the course?
HVIII: A hundred percent. It’s crazy how that works out. You go to a course where you haven’t played well and then you go to one where you have played well and you don’t play as well. It’s going to be a little different this year with the wind and the course will be a little bit different but I’ll be ready.
THE PLAYERS Championship takes place on NBC & GOLF from March 14-17